Are you one of the millions of patients with chronic pain who has a comorbid diagnosis of depression? Each condition is difficult enough to manage independently. The two together? They are a devastating combination and can feed off each other. Here’s how they often interact — and how you can cope.
1) Both are isolating
When you have chronic pain, your energy levels plummet. Many people in the chronic pain community explain this feeling using a spoon analogy to describe their limited supply of verve. You begin each day with several spoons in your drawer. Each activity you perform — from getting out of bed to taking a shower — costs you one spoon. When your supply is gone, it’s gone. You can sometimes “borrow” spoons from the next day — but that means risking pushing too hard and bringing on a painful flare.
If you’re disabled, this phenomenon may mean you lack the energy to leave the house for anything other than doctors’ appointments. If you’re still in the workforce, getting through the day may take every single spoon you have — every day. When it comes to having a social life, you don’t have the energy to do anything.
When you have depression, you may find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. You may also find you experience difficulty communicating with those around you. If you’re battling existential angst, you might see little point in doing anything. The problem is, the more you lie alone in bed, the more you remain caught up in a negative thought spiral. These ideas keep you from connecting with others when that might be what you need to lift you out of despair.
Make an effort to reach out to at least one person in your life daily. Phoning a friend or a relative can help you feel less alone.
2) Both are difficult to talk about
Doctors often encourage chronic pain patients to ease their burden by talking about their condition. However, you might struggle to find a sympathetic ear. If you’re on disability, you may feel left behind by your circle of friends. If you’re working, you typically find camaraderie in colleagues.
However, many people with chronic pain hide their conditions as to not risk repercussions like lack of advancement. People with depression often do the same because of the stigma associated with mental illness. As a result, they can feel like they live a lie because they have to keep an integral part of their life under wraps. This secrecy makes it hard to form intimate bonds.
You can find several online and in-person support groups by doing a simple web search. You can connect with others who share your condition and speak freely. Taking the time to find someone who genuinely understands you or at least listens to you is worth the effort. Doing so is good for your mental health and will help you feel more comfortable opening up about your struggles in the future.
3) Both take an economic toll
Both chronic pain and depression can take a severe economic toll. This scarcity can affect your entire life and drive you deeper into despair. Both conditions wreak havoc in the workplace. When you’re focused on your pain, it’s difficult to concentrate on the task at hand. This distraction can lead to errors that can result in job loss. Depression, too, levies a toll on your concentration. People might perceive your distraction as a lack of engagement, which can lead to repercussions at the office.
Furthermore, both conditions can lead you to call in sick more often. Even if you manage your disease well, you need time away to attend maintenance appointments and therapy. Considering that 25% of Americans receive no paid leave, calling in or leaving early too often can lead to termination. Job loss takes a devastating toll on your self-esteem. Pragmatically speaking, you may find yourself burning through your emergency fund and maxing out credit cards during periods of prolonged unemployment. The stress created by this hardship drives some into an even darker place mentally.
Creating a secure economic future can prove challenging when you have a chronic condition. Try to create a secondary income stream, so if one dries up, you have a fallback plan. Begin looking for ways that you can save money by paring down expenses.
4) Both can leave you hopeless
Finally, think back to the worst pain you ever had — maybe a broken bone or a crushing headache. Then, imagine the pain lasting for weeks — and your doctor tells you there’s a chance it will never get better. Is it any wonder approximately 10% of suicides occur in chronic pain patients? Depression, too, can lead people to that ultimate choice. What further complicates the matter? Many people don’t get sufficient relief from the first antidepressant they try.
Always keep trying — many treatment options exist. If you feel like you want to harm yourself, contact an emergency hotline for help.
Chronic pain and depression — a terrible combination
Chronic pain and depression feed off each other in multiple ways. If you struggle with both, understand that you are not alone. People living all over America and the world are dealing with these problems too, so don’t be afraid to reach out online for advice and help.